Intentions and Invitations

When people ask when I started running, I make a distinction in my answer. The distinction occurred in 2007 at age 39.

The fifteen years prior I ran, but there was no structure to it. I wasn’t following a plan, didn’t set any goals, had no purpose outside random decisions to go for a run. At best, I ran three times a week for less than 10 miles; I didn’t track it and wasn’t concerned about it. The thought of registering for a race never crossed my mind.

Around 2004 I began running more frequently. Still not tracking or challenging myself to add miles or distance. Just random jogs around the neighborhood. I don’t recall how I started getting considered a runner, but apparently folks around me got that impression. At that point, I wouldn’t have told people, “I’m a runner.”

Two things happened in 2007 that shifted everything. The first one was that I finished my masters degree, which I had started in 2003. While working fulltime, I had kept an average of 11 hours of classes each semester for four years. I had been going at a pretty intense pace. I distinctly remember sitting in my hotel room in New Orleans the week I was completing my last class and saying to myself, “I’m about to have a void in my life. I need to find something to fill it.” When I got home, I created intention to my running. No more randomness.

The second thing really propelled my running forward. And I didn’t see it coming. Two of my work colleagues entered triathlons. They decided they wanted to do a relay and invited me to be the runner. I remember pretty vividly the emotions of waiting at the stage exchange for the swim and bike legs to finish before I took off on the 5k. At that time, a 3.1 mile race seemed long. I had no idea about pacing, even if I could run that far without stopping. And God knows, I wasn’t going to be one of those walk/runners. I had so much to learn.

When I crossed the finish line of that 5k, I had become an intentional runner. My instincts to grow and challenge myself took over, and the rest is a history still unfolding. Another fifteen years have passed. I’ve ran dozens of races, raced in 26 states on the goal to run them all, and have averaged over 1,000 miles per year. These results reveal the power of intentions and invitations.

On this first day of 2023, what intentions would move your life forward? In your career, your family, your relationships, your finances, your spirit, your hobbies, your passions. What invitations you accept or extend would give those intentions a pathway taking you and others toward new heights and depths? A year from today, how would you like to reflect on your 2023 intentions and invitations?

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“But” Problem #2

(A series on lessons learned from running this year)

The second first-time experience this summer was less concerning but equally worth learning.

Two weeks after the shower incident, I let another “but” lead me to another result even more frustrating on a personal level.

I wanted to get in a 12-miler with two friends. The challenge was, they wanted to run early. Really early. Like 4AM early. They do this all the time; me, never.

So not only was I going to get up and run 12 miles in Florida humidity with my crazy friends, I was also going to pretend to be a morning person.

Unfortunately for me, not only that night but also the night before I got less than six hours of sleep. One night might be okay; two, not a recipe for a successful 12-mile run.

The alarm sounded at 3. And I said to myself, “Why am I doing this? But I want to get in 12 miles. Just have fun with it.”

True to our form, we actually started at 3:40AM. We were up; might as well hit the pavement.

I knew I was in trouble after the first mile. I learned several summers ago that my first mile on a long run needed to be easy. Something like a 10:30 pace. There was no doubt we were running faster than that. When I looked at my watch, we’d ran mile 1 in 9:26.

So not only was I pretending to be a morning person, I was also pretending this pace was doable. I told myself, “Just relax. Back off when you can. Stay with it.” And I did, as every mile got even faster.

In December, that’s fine. This wasn’t December. It was 75 degrees, hours before the sun decided to wake up.

At the mile 6 stop, I knew I had to tap out. Pretending gave way to reality. Twelve wasn’t going to happen. Too fast…too tired…too humid…too early. They went on to get in six more while I did two slower miles to get back to my car. Eight miles done; four miles short of the target.

On the drive home, it hit me. I hadn’t been pretending. I had been lying to myself. All the “buts” of why this was a good idea and that I could get in 12 miles hid the truth. I don’t run at 4AM. I don’t run long runs in humidity at a 9:15 pace. I missed my target because I lied to myself about who I am.

Lesson #2: “Buts” lead to lies. Lies lead to unrealized potential and missed targets.

Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash

“But” Problem #1

(A series on lessons learned from running this year)

I’m sure I’ve made it clear before, but I’m okay repeating myself.

Running in the Florida summer is dreadful. This summer, however, I did much better than any summer prior. But that doesn’t mean all went well. Looking back, two particular days stand out…and they’ve got clear takeaways, both having to do with self talk where a “but” led to a problem.

Both happened on Saturdays. Both happened when I drove to run with friends in a running club. Both involved first-time experiences.

The first Saturday experience happened actually back at home after the run. That morning I decided to add a few miles for my long run of the week. And, surprisingly, I managed the run quite well. In fact, I was feeling pretty good about myself. So good, in fact, that I veered away from my normal recovery routine.

My Saturday long run routine is pretty well set.

  • Hit the pavement by 6
  • Minimum 8 miles
  • Recovery starts with a banana and water
  • Stretching while running an Epsom salt bath
  • More water and half a bagel while letting the salt do its thing
  • Shower
  • More fluid and food
  • Nap usually follows within an hour or two, if possible

On this Saturday, I broke routine. I was feeling so good, so surprisingly good, that I let a “but” lead me to break routine. And it led to a personal violation.

“I can’t believe how well I feel. I killed that run. Normally I drink more water while in the bath, but I’m feeling quite good. No water today. I’m mean, it’s only like 8-10 ounces. What’s that matter?”

Did I mention the bath is as hot as I can make it? Which means even more sweating. Which I don’t mind at all…until it’s time to stand up to shower. And this time, my body had something to say.

My body decided it had had enough. And the first-time experience was finding myself waking up on the shower floor not long after wondering, “What is the deal with my head?”

The problem with this scene was I ignored what I knew was wise, common sense, and established. I allowed my mind to accept a problematic “but.”

Lesson #1: “Buts” lead to violations. Violations lead to fetal positions in the shower.

Photo by Karim Ghantous on Unsplash

Sunday after Ian

I left town for Ian; technically, I left the state. Even though I don’t regret the decision, there’s a weird sense of guilt that comes with it (that may be for another post).

I got back to West Bradenton Thursday evening. Electricity on. Wi-Fi working. Cul-de-sac cleaned. It was like nothing had happened. But all you have to do is open any social media platform and be brought into the reality that something most certainly had happened.

Friday morning, my church sent out an email stating that the Sarasota elementary school where we meet isn’t able to host us today. So the challenge was issued to, instead of attending a service, serve the community. Here’s the challenge:

Even though we may not be gathering as a church this Sunday, we can still BE THE CHURCH. This Sunday, we invite you to join us in a SERVE SUNDAY. Would you get out and serve the people around you? Imagine the church in action spread throughout our neighborhoods and our city. What a beautiful thing that will be.  
Serve Sunday doesn’t have to look like just cutting debris and clearing yards, although it might be. This could look like making a meal with your kids for families still without power. This could look like taking some cookies to the local fire department. This could look like simply walking the neighborhood and checking in on each home, asking if they need anything.  
Let’s do this, if we see a need, let’s meet a need.

My guilt was already driving me to do something, which I managed to do on Friday and Saturday. I could have let that be it. But something was telling me that wasn’t enough.

This was supposed to be the first Sunday of my serving in a role that had me showing up at 7AM. With that off the table, I decided to drive to the beach to run, of course, but also to find answers to “enough.” Three hours later, God had given more answers than imaginable.

Before heading to the beach, I stopped to fill up the car. I overheard normal conversation about how other customers had fared the week and how challenging it was to have to keep generators running. AWARENESS #1: Not everyone has power yet.

I always park on the Gulf side of Coquina Beach. But not today. The main public parking was not open. Across the street, however, is a smaller parking lot where boat trailers park and have water entry access. And across the street is where you get a great view of sunrise. I arrived just in time to get this shot.

AWARENESS #2: The sun always rises.

I took off north to head back to Cortez road and cross the bridge to Cortez Village. I had just come to the first bend in the sidewalk and this is what I faced (I took pictures after my run for better lighting).

AWARENESS #3: Ian didn’t respect age.

Few people were moving about as I made my way to the bridge. Honestly, I’m not sure how many people are back. Other than cars on the road, it felt mostly abandoned. When I got up to the bridge, I was thinking about just running up to the draw bridge and turning around, but I felt the urge to continue over. As I ran down the other side, my left shoe felt loose. At the foot of the bridge was a slight right turn into a mobile home park that I have never explored. I saw a sitting bench, so I paused there to tie my shoe. That led me down a further exploration of this park and Cortez Village, which was a first.

All along my run to that point, my “enough” was to pray for the residents, visitors, store owners, and businesses of Coquina Beach. As I continued that as I ran through the village, out of nowhere sat this little neighborhood church.

Photo from their Facebook page

At first, I ran by it. But then I knew I was to pause and serve this congregation by praying for them. I walked the parking lot. Nothing seemed damaged. It didn’t even look like there had been any debris. Either they’d already cleaned it up and disposed of it, or this little spot had not been touched. I counted the parking spaces; only 15 spaces, four of them handicapped. I thought about the pastor of this congregation. How unique his service is. How alone he may feel. How tempted he may be to believe the lie that his work doesn’t matter. AWARENESS #4: All service to others is service to God.

As I started back over the bridge to head back to my car, I still was asking God to show me what else I could do besides pray. The line “let’s meet a need from the email was my focus. And then it was clear. I had already heard the need. The folks buying gas beside me earlier illustrated a clear need people have. That was the final “enough.”

So back to the gas station I went. And I’m thinking, this is going to be a little weird-walking up to strangers and offering to pay for their gas. And my counter to my self talk was, “It’s only weird if you make it weird, John.”

My question after I pulled into a parking space was, how do I determine who to approach. I decided to just watch and see who might look like they had the most need. And as I watched and waited, it became clear.

I ended up approaching two customers. The first one was an elderly couple in an older car with a handicap license plate. He started walking toward the store with cash in his hand. When I asked if he’d allow me to pay for his gas with my card, he paused to see if I was serious. I let the silence speak. He said, “I have the money.” I replied, “I see that, but how about you keep it for something else.” And that was it. Nothing weird. Just mutual gratefulness. AWARENESS #5: Generosity is a universal language.

The second customer I suspected was serving others himself. He opened his truck’s tailgate and started taking the caps off of three 5-gallon gas cans. When I walked up and asked him if he’d paid for his gas yet, he said no. I asked then, “Will you let me pay for your gas?” Too bad we haven’t figured out how to take photos just with eye contact yet. He looked stunned, and his mind was swirling. Again I let the silence speak. The first thing he could say was, “I’m usually the one offering to help others. No one has ever asked me something like that.” My search was over. Customer #2 was enough. Those gas cans were to keep the generators running in his neighborhood. AWARENESS #6: Seek and you will find…God honors those who serve their neighbors.

Thank you, Hope City, for the challenge. The Sunday after Ian will always serve me as a reminder of the many ways God gives us enough.

Running Blind

The other morning I woke up before the alarm and decided I might as well get up and run. Out the door before 6, it was still dark. Roughly 3/4 of a mile out, running in the bike lane through my neighborhood, I approached a clump of something in the lane. As I got closer and a passing car’s lights lit up the lane, I figured out it was a dead possum. Roughly 20 yards later I stepped over a dead armadillo. Then within just yards I had to maneuver around two huge palm branches crossing the lane. Within that same patch, cars timely passed so I could see and not do something stupid.

Thinking about it later, I remembered this verse I’d read and journaled about recently from I John 2:11.

“Those who hate a fellow believer are in the darkness and walk around in the darkness; they do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

Ever noticed how hate makes you do stupid things. Even while you’re doing them your mind is saying, “What is going on? I don’t want to do this. Where is this coming from?” Sometimes it’s not until much later, after you’ve totally blown it, that you figure it all out. Then you have to humble yourself, or at least you have the choice, and admit what was driving your outrageous actions.

Thank God for the light of love. It reveals the dead stuff, guides you to a better path, and helps you avoid roadkill and debris.

Choose it. Run in it. The alternative – running blind – can be quite costly.

(FB post from 8/27/2011)

Photo by Kouji Tsuru on Unsplash

Google Result 40,900,001

I just googled the word journaling and got 40,900,000 results. Guess another result can’t hurt.

These six journals contain my entries from Dec. ’99 to March ’12

In an effort to keep shrinking my library, I discarded six journals today. Hard to do? Not really, particularly since they are more than a decade old. And as tempting as it is for me to flip through the pages, instead I dwelt on the value of what was on the pages versus the exact words.

If you journal, you know the value. If you don’t journal, well there are 40 million web results to consider its value. As for my experience, here’s why I value journaling.

  1. Spiritual. This one is first for a reason. In those six journals, my guess is 95% of the content was from the discipline of journaling while engaging scripture reading. During that time frame, I mostly used the acronym SOAP, written about in The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro, to complete my journaling discipline. My engagement with God and the Bible took on new depth through the words penned on those pages. Pretty sure there’s not a price tag I could put on that.
  2. Emotional. A lot happened in those twelve years including working at three different churches in various roles, moving to a new city, completing a four-year masters degree, handing off a successful piano competition, becoming an intentional runner, and many other personal and family experiences. Allowing pen and paper to process the emotions of such events is beneficial to the one journaling and to those in their world. The value that is most surprising is how those emotions surface more quickly and more healthily due to the writing discipline.
  3. Mental. As one who believes our minds should be in constant growth, the discipline of journaling is a tool that aids that growth. When united with spiritual and emotional focuses, my mind is transformed. After twelve years of journaling, I know things I didn’t know before, I know things I didn’t know I needed to know, and I deepened my value of knowing both of those things.

How I journal, how often I journal, and how it impacts me continues to evolve. That’s reason enough to keep journaling.

Discovery Run

I did myself a favor. I stuck around another night in Jacksonville after the wedding last Saturday.

What do I have to show for it? For starters, Peterbrooke (well, I did…it didn’t last long), a good movie, and a great dinner.

But the best was my Sunday morning run. I got in 3.8 Saturday morning before meeting friends for breakfast before the wedding. But Sunday morning was what weekend running is all about. No time limits. No expectations. Just exploration. A chance to discover.

The little running I did when I lived in Jacksonville (’90-’02) was all neighborhood (Arlington, Mandarin). I never ran downtown. So I was excited to run around the AirBnB in Springfield and, since it was only a few miles south, Downtown.

There’s a vibe when you run downtown in any city. It’s not the isolation of the country or the ease of a neighborhood. There’s an energy. Even in the absence of traffic, there’s a sense of life unlike anywhere else. And I like it. Especially in the early morning hours.

From running the Main Street bridge, to hearing church bells ring, to discovering Henry J. Klutho Park, it was one of the most pleasant runs in recent memory.

Thank you, Jacksonville! You put a smile on my face every time.

Whispers to a Hot Minute

A hot minute about anger.

This morning I was angered by a social media post by a friend. This post, without a doubt, did harm. That in itself causes anger. This post, without a doubt, did harm to a mutual friend. That causes more and deeper anger.

And the reality is, social media posts can cause us anger just about every minute of the day, giving us the opportunity to feel like the whole day is one hot minute. These posts don’t necessarily have to be by people we know. Unfortunately, we are leered into getting hot from posts by people we don’t even know. We can believe the lie that we know their intentions, but reality is that’s impossible.

This morning, I had the same impulse most of us do. “Why don’t I point out the harm and basically put my friend in his place?” Thankfully, I refrained. Then my hotness said, “Well, sure, don’t put it out there for everybody to see. Just send him a private message.” Very tempting, but thankfully I still refrained. So what did I do? I went for a run.

So let me explain. Rarely do I run at 1PM. And rarely is going for a run a solution. But I know myself enough to know that one way to keep me from doing something stupid is to do something good. And some of my best thinking is while I’m running.

Sure enough, the hot minute subsided and the angry rebuttal left the front of my mind. Some call that regulation or de-escalation. In spiritual terms, I’d say it’s dropping your ego in order to let God have a say.

So here are God’s whispers while on my run:

  • “One person’s lack of turning their cheek doesn’t give you the right to do the same.”
  • “A fool is better left alone. I don’t need your help setting them straight.”
  • “Offer forgiveness rather than advice or judgment.”
  • “Consider how Jesus approached the harm Judas created.”

And that’s how I’ll be able to go to sleep tonight. Listening and following the whispers cooling my hot minute.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

10 Minutes in New Orleans

Last weekend we traveled to New Orleans to run the Rock ‘n’ Roll race. Unless you hibernate in your hotel, you see and therefore learn a lot in New Orleans. I’ve never been disappointed visiting New Orleans.

As for seeing and learning in New Orleans, a visit there should include taking in great food. We made it a point to not eat at the same place twice. Not necessarily hard to do, but certainly fun to achieve. Here’s the food establishments we visited during our stay:

The Milk Bar

We ate just about anything you could ask for: crawfish, shrimp and grits, crab, gumbo, pasta, burgers, pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and beignets. No regrets.

Boil Seafood House

I can only imagine the challenges these owners and employees have survived during the pandemic. This race, an annual event, wasn’t even held last year. And who knows how many others were canceled. So to be open and surviving is a testament to their commitment to their business and their customers.

We Floridians came to town somewhat clueless to the continuing COVID protocols in place in New Orleans. We learned real quick. Not in a rude way, but it was clear we were not at home. Mask mandates required us to mask up everywhere we went. No problem. Happy to comply. In some places, vaccination proof was required; we knew this as a requirement to enter the race expo. No problem. Happy to comply.

What was interesting to see was how the employees of these ten food businesses went about treating their customers while holding to these protocols. 9 out of 10 were excellent experiences. Regardless of their choosing to uphold the protocols or choosing to require vaccination proof, these employees treated their customers with excellent respect and warmth as they worked under unusual circumstances.

Our best experience was at Kilwins on Decatur Street. It was Sunday afternoon, and my friend wanted a shake. Google told us the closest shake available was Kilwins, so we headed there. We passed Cafe Beignet on our way there and decided it was time to get some beignets as well, after Kilwins. The next 10 minutes was a lesson in customer service.

If you know me, a “no” to ice cream is rare. But I was saving room for beignets. Even the chocolate was not tempting me in Kilwins. We already had our share from Leah’s Pralines, so I didn’t enter Kilwins with a shopping mindset. Just taking it in. We were not greeted at the door by anyone checking proof of vaccination. What we were greeted with was employees behind the counter welcoming us in the store, “Welcome to Kilwins!” My buddy ordered his shake, while I eyed the chocolate. Nicey, behind the counter, asked if I needed any help. I said, “No, just looking.” She offered to give me a fudge sample. Do you think I said no? After that sample of her favorite, she asked if I saw another fudge I’d like to sample. Well, I had to admit I didn’t need a sample. I had been hooked into buying a chunk of Toasted Coconut Fudge, simply because it sounded intriguing. Plus, Nicey lived up to her name. We walked out of Kilwins happy shake and fudge customers expecting to enjoy more happiness in beignet land.

We went from the best customer experience to the worst customer experience in what felt like another city, but only two stores apart. Not to bore you with the details, but suffice it to say one Cafe Beignet employee was determined to have things her way when it came to COVID protocols to the point customers did not feel welcomed. We were thankful for outside seating.

In that ten minutes in New Orleans, we saw and learned a few things about customer service, about how to treat one another during challenging times, about power, about treating others the way you want to be treated.

To the 90% of New Orleans businesses that made our trip amazing, thank you. We remember our time with you as minutes well spent, minutes we were seen and heard, minutes you thought more about us than you did yourself. Keep giving your customers great minutes!

Race Day is Coming…Ready?

Yesterday my run was a 6-mile route I created last Summer. It mostly runs east and west, as you can see here:

At the mile 1 turnaround, I noticed something. I had been running with the wind to my back, which meant for the next three miles it was now in my face. Made me stop (I didn’t actually stop running) and think…and this is where my mind went the next three miles.

Some windy days are worse than others. On those worse days, like this past Sunday when gusts were 20+MPH, I run as much as possible in the crosswind. Of course, you always have the choice to say, “No thanks. I’m not even lacing up.”

Ultimately, you need to run into the wind. Why? Because Race Day is Coming!

All the training weeks before race day you can do whatever you want in choosing to deal with the elements. But come race day, it’s out of your hands. There’s no opting out. The course is already laid out, and the elements are not in any human’s hands. Race Day is here. You have to deal with it.

Runner or not, we all have race days.

  • Newly engaged…race day is coming
  • Newly pregnant…race day is coming
  • Final child about to graduate…race day is coming
  • Mid-life career change approaching…race day is coming
  • Anticipating retirement…race day is coming

These race days, if you’re living life well, you see coming and can do your best to make the right training choices. There are some race days you don’t see coming. Like 100MPH wind race days. If you are a “This Is Us” fan, this week you saw Beth and Randall have to deal with a major Race Day with their 17-year-old. All race days, known and unknown, come, and you don’t have a choice but to deal with the elements.

So what do we do? Sure, most training days and race days are mild. Enjoy them to the fullest. On those “unmild” days, recognize you have choices. If you want to be ready for race day, you’ve got to be willing to run into the wind occasionally. When that’s not your best option, it’s okay to slow the pace or claim it as rest day.

Be wise. Race day is coming.